The Rockies are looking to upgrade behind the dish and are interested in Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, reports T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. Sullivan’s colleague, Thomas Harding, reports that the Rox also have some interest in Braves backstop Kurt Suzuki and Tigers catcher Alex Avila.
All three of the options listed are set to hit free agency upon completion of the 2017 campaign, and none of the bunch is earning at a substantial rate. Lucroy’s $5.75MM salary is the heftiest of the bunch, while Avila is earning $2MM in 2017 and Suzuki is owed only the balance of a $1.5MM base salary (plus some modest incentives).
The 31-year-old entered the season as one of the consensus top free agents on the 2017-18 market, but he’s seen both his bat and his glove take steps backward in his first full season with Texas. After being acquired just prior to last year’s non-waiver deadline, Lucroy raked at an exceptional .276/.345/.539 pace with 11 homers in 168 plate appearances down the stretch. However, he’s batting just .240/.293/.339 through 294 plate appearances this season and has begun to cede some playing time to Robinson Chirinos.
Lucroy has caught 30 percent of those that have attempted to steal against him, but he’s also seen his once-vaunted framing numbers deteriorate to the point that Baseball Prospectus ranks him as one of the league’s worst pitch framers.
It’s the opposite story for the 30-year-old Avila, who has broken out in a substantial way in 2017. A well-above-average catcher with the Tigers in 2011-12, Avila’s career was mired in a downward spiral before a return to the Motor City sparked a renaissance. He’s hitting .280/.402/.488 with 11 homers through just 256 plate appearances and has slashed his strikeout rate from 37.3 percent in 2016 to a more passable (but still too high) 29.7 percent this year.
While many have questioned Avila’s ability to sustain this pace, there isn’t a player in baseball (min. 250 PAs) that has a higher hard-contact rate than Avila’s 50 percent. His 92 mph average exit velocity is also among the top 10 in the league, trailing only Aaron Judge, Miguel Sano, Khris Davis, Joey Gallo, Manny Machado and Nelson Cruz. He’s sporting a 31 percent caught-stealing rate but, like Lucroy, has received below-average marks in framing this year (albeit to a lesser extent than Lucroy).
Suzuki, meanwhile, is hitting .255/.340/.468 through 163 plate appearances in his first season with Atlanta. While SunTrust Park has a homer-friendly reputation, six of Suzuki’s eight big flies have come on the road this season. He’s caught a much-improved 26 percent of potential base thieves with the Braves and has demonstrated some improved but still shaky framing skills, per B-Pro.
The reason for the Rockies’ interest in catching upgrades isn’t difficult to see. Tony Wolters has shouldered the bulk of the time behind the dish this season, but he’s posted a meager .255/.351/.306 batting line, with much of that OBP boost coming from batting in front of Rockies pitchers. On the whole, Rockies backstops have posted a dismal .234/.313/.310 batting line — an especially unsightly level of output when considering their hitter-friendly home park.
Harding further reports that the Rox have “extensively” scouted Tigers left-hander Justin Wilson, adding names like Brad Brach, Zach Britton and AJ Ramos as other names the Rox have at least kept an eye on.
It’s not hard to connect some dots and expect that the Rox could have interest in a combo deal that would net them both Avila and Wilson from Detroit, though the asking price on that affordable and excellent pairing would figure to be high. Similarly, I’d imagine there’ve at least been internal discussions about the possibility of pairing one of the Baltimore relievers with Orioles catcher Welington Castillo, though his bat has cooled considerably since suffering a groin injury earlier this summer. That last connection is merely my own speculation, but if the Orioles do indeed listen on their relievers, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see them gauge interest in Castillo as well.